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New Comienzos

Migrants deported from the US build a new community in Mexico


They don't speak Spanish and know little about Mexican culture. But after they've been deported from the United States to a country they barely know, one organization is helping them adapt to a new life.

The corner of Mexico City around the iconic Monumento a la Revolucion is fast becoming known as Little L.A.

Most new arrivals end up here looking for work opportunities in the English speaking call centers for big brand clients. It's also a chance to mix with people facing a similar situation of being a foreigner in your own country.

The non-profit organization New Comienzos, or "New Beginnings," works to help returned migrants to adapt to their new lives. The group provides work opportunities, help finding a place to live, language lessons, psychological assistance, and a sense of community.

Founder Israel Concha knows what it's like to start over. He was deported back to Mexico after 30 years living in the US. "Little L.A. is a zone where thousands of binational people have come," he says. "We have opened our own business here."

In the Tabacalera neighbourhood, many of the signs are in English and the stores are staffed by former deportees themselves.

"Well basically I was born here in Mexico," says 20-year-old Brian Mandujano. "I was like two years old when my parents took me to the States so first we ended up in L.A., South Central." A year ago, his father was arrested by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and deported. It set off a chain of events that saw the whole family move back to Mexico to stay together.

Mandujano says it's been hard to adapt to a language and culture that was foreign to him, but is happy that he's found a kind of oasis in the city.

"I feel [like I'm] back in the States because everywhere like you see around, everybody speaks English, you know they're all friendly, there's a lot of people around. You know for me it's like a whole different world here."

The majority of shops in Little L.A. are supportive of the binational community and tray to cater for the different language skills.

New Comienzos says most of the people in Little L.A. are between 20 to 40 years old and while they were born in Mexico, few knew of the Mexican culture at all.

Geovanni Martinez is a new arrival from the US. He was arrested because his drivers license was expired and spent four months in detention before being deported.

He grew up in Jackson, Mississippi and leaves behind all his family and a 3 year old daughter: "(I was deported with) Nothing, only these clothes they gave when I was at detention."

It's a similar story for many of the other deportees, including the hairdressers in this barber shop.

Edwin Malagon was 13 when he crossed by himself into the United States and lived in Atlanta, Georgia for 20 years.

After being deported in 2013, he opened this barber shop where he takes care of other "binationals" like himself. "We all went through love of the country we thought we'd love where we grew up and then it turned it back to us and we all got the boot the same way, we all did and we all started from zero just like when we went over there."

Even businesses that have been in the Tabacalera neighborhood for decades and with no links to the US are trying to support the new arrivals.

Taco cook Jose Robles shows how he has recently learned some phrases in English: "Hey, How much your tacos? I answer: One taco, thirteen pesos."

Concha founded New Comienzos after he was deported from Texas, where he grew up. He says there are new arrivals everyday who need help and guidance.

Volunteers work around Little L.A. to offer support to those with few connections to Mexico.

"[It is Little L.A.] not because people are from California nor do we want to Americanize the city," says Concha, "it is just the idea that binational people can support among them and create their own opportunities."

Recently the Mexico City Government signed an agreement to help deportees to get financial help to open new businesses in Little L.A. and to access other social programs.

It may not be the American dream, but there's hope support networks for deported migrants will help them soar.

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